Port Townsend has seen extremely high tides this week due to the annual king tide phenomenon caused by the proximity of the earth to the moon. These tides are used to illustrate what potential issues could arise due to rising sea levels. (Cydney McFarland/Peninsula Daily News)

King tide possible wave of the future, according to group

PORT TOWNSEND — Naturally occurring king tides, which are unusually high tides, can be a harbinger of normal tides to come, said a member of Washington Sea Grant.

On Friday morning, nearly 70 community members gathered at the Salmon Club boat ramp in Port Townsend to eat snacks and observe the high tide, which reached nearly 10 feet, the highest of the year so far.

Bridget Trosin, the coastal policy specialist for Seattle-based Washington Sea Grant, was on hand to explain what causes the king tide and to say these tides show the future for coastal towns.

The Climate Change Preparedness Plan for the Olympic Peninsula published in 2015, shows that current predictions give Port Townsend a 75 percent chance of seeing local sea levels rise 0.4 feet by 2030, Trosin said.

Trosin said this prediction includes the 0.67 millimeters of elevation Port Townsend loses every year.

“That’s much less of an issue here than in other places in the Puget Sound,” Trosin said. “In Seattle, the land is subsiding in inches every year, which exacerbates the effects of rising sea levels.”

These don’t sound like huge changes, but according to the Washington Sea Grant website at http://tinyurl.com/PDN-WSGkingtides, rising sea levels are likely to impact freshwater sources such as groundwater aquifers, damage developments and infrastructure, and reduce public access to recreation areas and coastal habitats.

King tides aren’t a result of climate change. They are a natural, predictable occurrence that results when the orbits and alignment of the Earth, moon and sun combine to produce the greatest tidal effects of the year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“As time goes by, the water level reached now during a king tide will be the water level reached at high tide on an average day,” the EPA said on its website at http://tinyurl.com/PDN-EPAkingtides.

Said Trosin: “These [king tides] aren’t caused by climate change, but it gets people down to the water and discussing how our high tides could look in the near future.”

King tides happen during the winter.

Predictions of the highest tides along the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Pacific Coast in the North Olympic Peninsula, according to the state Department of Ecology, are:

• La Push — 10.4 feet at 11:14 a.m. this coming Friday and 11:58 a.m. the following day.

• Neah Bay — 10 feet at 11:27 a.m. Friday and at 12:09 p.m. Saturday.

• Port Angeles — 7.9 feet at 5:55 a.m. Nov. 29, 6:02 a.m. Dec. 29, 5:34 a.m. Jan. 13, 6:10 a.m. Jan.14, 6:46 a.m. Jan. 15 and 7:25 a.m. Jan. 16.

Washington Sea Grant plans similar events around Puget Sound throughout December and January, when tides in the area will be at their highest, according to MaryAnn Wagner, spokeswoman for the group.

“The message is all about preparing for the future and giving people an idea of what may be in store with rising sea levels,” Wagner said.

Wagner said the group hopes that communities will be inspired to begin considering ways of coping with rising sea levels and be aware of the issues that could arise.

Washington Sea Grant personnel encourage people across the state to take photos documenting these tidal events in their own communities and post them to Washington Sea Grant’s king tide album, seen at www.washington.kingtides.net.

The album currently shows water encroaching on trails near Sneeoosh Point, flooding yards in Olympia, running over sidewalks in Seattle and waves crashing against roads in Southworth, Wagner said.

The state Department of Ecology also posts photos of king tides. See http://tinyurl.com/PDN-ecologykingtides.

Washington Sea Grant is a 47-year-old program based at the University of Washington College of the Environment.

It is part of a national network of 33 programs researching the country’s coastal regions and communities under the administration of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They are funded through federal-university partnerships.

“These events are just one of many projects we do around the state,” Wagner said.

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or at cmcfarland@peninsuladailynews.com.